Ashé

Before you read: This was written for Kim Harrison's books, in her style with Rachel as the narrator. It is placed directly after Rachel lands herself in the hospital at the end of Every Which Way but Dead but before the end of the novel. In addition, this was coauthored with a very good friend of mine known as Enigma. Any comments should include her as well, if you will. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: None of the characters, places, or occurrences belong to us. We just like to play with them.

xXx

The first thing I noticed when I came to was Ivy, indistinct as she hovered over me. Little noises faded in and out, not very consistent with whatever was going on. My perception must have been off. And then the pain hit me. Hard.

I groaned and Ivy snapped to stare at me so fast her hair spun around her head in a blurry wave. "Rachel?" she asked. I couldn't quite put a face to her voice; my sight was still unfocused. "David, get a nurse! Rachel, are you okay? Come on, look at me."

"It hurts…"

Ivy put a cool hand on my shoulder. "I know." Features finally came into view. Her eyebrows were furrowed tightly in concern, but she didn't say anything else. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I glanced around the room.

"Where's Kisten?" I mumbled, noticing he wasn't there. And then I remembered why. "Is he okay?" I stupidly tried to sit up, but Ivy's hand kept me still upon the mattress.

"He's fine," Ivy stated matter-of-factly. "We were all more worried about you." Her face was pinched, and I felt like a jerk realizing what I'd done.

"Ivy. What about you? Are you okay? I didn't mean to not ask, it was just—"

"He was the first thing you thought about," said Ivy flatly, silencing my stammering attempts at an apology. "I'm fine too."

Her red eyes and blotchy cheeks said otherwise, but I wasn't about to argue. Ivy had a tendency to get mad when I called her on her vulnerability, and I couldn't handle an angry vamp in the state I was in. As I looked closer, I realized there was something not quite right about her, and it went deeper than the unknown emotions creasing her pale forehead. She seemed…human, almost. Stripped of her usual presence. It made an uncomfortable knot start in the pit of my stomach.

"Um, Ivy?" I started, but David and a harried-looking nurse came rushing in, breaking my train of thought. The nurse was a middle-aged witch with mousy brown hair in a frizzy braid and lipstick that was so red it made the rest of her leathery face look washed out. She slipped a pain amulet over my head and grabbed me by the shoulders, hoisting me forward and stacking pillows against the head of the bed so I couldn't lie back down. At the sound of a scuffle from somewhere down the hall, she rushed off again without so much as a word. "Thanks?" I said, not at all sure that she'd helped.

Ivy fidgeted, looking nothing like her usual self, and I half expected her to pull one of her Brimstone cookies from under her shirt and try to make me eat it. But instead she tucked her long hair behind her ears and turned tiredly to David. "Coffee?" The Were nodded, and Ivy breezed out the door without looking back at me.

"Did something happen to her?" I asked David quietly, praying that Ivy was out of even vamp earshot. The pain amulet was making it kind of hard to tell what was going on around me.

David came closer to the edge of the bed and paused awkwardly, looking like he wanted to sit, then thought better of it. "Standard hospital practice. All vamps wear caps and are given drugs to suppress pheromone production."

I raised my eyebrows in surprise, and David shook his head. I hated hospitals, and had avoided them at all costs since my dad had died. The memories of Lee's curse came stabbing back at me with that thought, and I closed my eyes tightly.

"You didn't know that?" asked David, apparently not noticing. "I'm surprised. Useful, though. It'd be hard to do a vital operation with your judgment impaired by the presence of a loved one or the patient themself."

"No, I didn't know that." It was hard not to snap, but I knew David was an innocent bystander, and didn't deserve my growing anger or frustration. None of this was his fault. My fingers clasped around the amulet, and I was thoroughly relieved I had it to dull my senses. A timid silence fell, broken by the soft beeping of monitors and pumps. "Is Kisten really okay?" I asked after a moment, knowing I'd never get a straight answer out of Ivy.

The Were pursed his lips. "Yeah, he really is okay. He lost a lot of blood, but the doctors took good care of him." He relaxed a bit. "He's already up and moving, against medical advice."

I couldn't stop the chuckle that rose in my throat. "Stubborn idiot." Even David could hear the adoration in my voice, making my barb fall uselessly. Ivy came back into the room then and I wondered how much she had heard. Under my amulet-induced fogginess, I let it drop before I did something stupid.

"Here." She handed David a steaming cup of coffee. Her eyes were their normal rich brown, and it was easy to let my guard down under that friendly gaze.

"Where's mine?" I asked jealously, not caring that it sounded like whining. Ivy froze, then seemed to realize I was joking. Mostly.

"Sorry, Rachel. The doctors said no caffeine until your metabolism comes back to normal."

I pouted, feeling I had a right to. "Since when has that ever stopped you?" She looked away, and I knew I had made a mistake. Once again, I pushed it to the back of my mind. I'd deal with that later. "So when can I get out of here?"

David glanced at Ivy before responding. "Um, the nurse was saying yesterday that they'd want to keep you for a few days after you woke up."

I was about to protest when his words sunk in. "Yesterday? How long was I out?" My eyes darted between the two of them, waiting for an answer that was suspiciously being held back. "Tell me."

Ivy scuffed her left foot against the tiles, obviously upset. Great. "Five days," she finally whispered.

I was dumbstruck. "Five…five days?"

"Listen, Rachel, it's really not -"

"Not what?" I tried to sit up but my arms were too flimsy to hold my weight. "Not that important? Not that big a deal?" Ivy set down her coffee and rushed to my side to hold me still. "Five days is a long time!" I told her, fuming at my own weakness.

"I know it is!" Ivy snapped, frustration winning over her more patient side. "And guess what, Rachel? I was here the entire time! Waiting for you to wake up!" That stopped me. "You may feel like you lost those days, but I lived them. And let me tell you, they were not good." She turned and left the room. Her coffee was left sitting on the table beside the bed.

David gave me a disapproving look, and I resisted the urge to scream. The Were simply could not understand my life in the short time I'd spent with him. He had no idea how hard I tried to make all of this work. I settled for a glare, and he shrugged. "I'm going to make sure she's all right." He scooped up Ivy's coffee on his way out, dashing my hopes of stealing it.

As soon as David was out the door, I let my head fall back against the stiff pillows the nurse had stacked behind me, giving in to the warm exhaustion the amulet had pulled over me. Closing my eyes, I willed myself to focus on the fact that it was just fluorescent lights making the swirling pools of red on the backs of my lids. Crappy little room with lights that wouldn't dim. I was willing to bet there was dirt in the corners, too. I would not think about my dad.

"Stubborn idiot, hm?"

I jerked painfully, wondering whether I'd fallen asleep as I opened my eyes to find Kisten standing over me. Aside from his disheveled hair and several scratches running across one cheek, he looked perfectly fine. He was wearing a black silk robe, and I wondered where he'd gotten it, suddenly painfully aware that I was in a crappy old hospital gown. "You heard that?" I asked, my mouth falling open. "Where were you, outside the door?"

Kisten smirked, and I knew that he'd heard every word out of me since I'd woken up. Feeling my cheeks flush, I found a sudden acute interest in the white hospital sheets. "What's the fun of being in a hospital if you don't sneak off?"

"Want to steal me some coffee, then?" I asked, knowing he must have also heard my fight with Ivy.

"No." His face went serious as he came over to sit on the edge of my bed and gingerly touching my cheek. "I'd take what the doctor says seriously. We almost lost you, Rachel. Ivy will never say it, so I will. We thought you were dead."

The seriousness in his voice shocked me, and I knew suddenly that it must've been worse even than he was saying. I knew already that it took a lot to shake him like this. "Thank you," I said, suddenly remember what he and Ivy had done for me. "I'm sorry you got…" I looked pointedly at his chest, realizing I didn't know what actually had happened. "Hurt."

"Anything," Kisten breathed, swinging his legs up onto the side of the bed. He moved one of the pillows and put his arm behind my shoulders instead. I let my head drop onto his shoulder, enjoying the feel of silk against my cheek. I knew the tingling in my stomach couldn't be from vamp pheromones, and I very much doubted it was the pain amulet either.

"You're much more comfortable than the bed," I said, then laughed, realizing how ridiculous I sounded.

Kisten chuckled, the noise vibrating in my ear. "I think the pain is making you delirious," he mumbled.

"Thank you for staying with me," I whispered, not sure what to say through my grogginess.

Kisten stiffened suddenly, pulling away so that I was leaning against his arm instead of his shoulder, and he could see my face. I sucked in a breath at the sudden movement, feeling his tension twang through me despite the lack of pheromones. I was utterly off-balance between the amulet and the throbbing in my head, but I trusted Kisten not to let me fall.

"Is that what you want, Rachel?" he asked very softly, his eyes tight with an emotion I couldn't read. "Do you want me to stay?"

It took me a moment to realize he wasn't just talking about now, and then it all fell into place. David had called him my boyfriend, and I still wasn't sure what to make of that. I'd made it quite clear that I didn't want to be dating him before, but after seeing Kist lying in a pool of his own blood trying to save my life, I wasn't so certain about that anymore.

"I don't know," I said, too quickly. His hand on my arm tightened ever so slightly, and I felt him make a concentrated effort to relax. "Yes. I want you to. But I don't know if you can. Or if you want to."

"I want to," Kisten breathed, his body shifting back into softness. I noticed that he hadn't said whether or not he could, either. But then I thought of Ivy and her ongoing struggle to control herself, and realized that he probably couldn't know that any better than I could. Very gently, he kissed my forehead, and I shivered.

"Why?" I asked. I had to know, though I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Kisten flushed, his neck and the rims of his ears going a delicate shade of pink. "You, ah, remember what I told you about the line dancing at Piscary's?"

I nodded, willing to go along though I wasn't sure what he was getting at.

"That's what I want."

He took my hand, looking at our tangled fingers and refusing to meet my eyes, and suddenly I understood. He wanted the freedom to be himself without the obligation of being anyone's scion or boss. He thought I could give him that. I leaned to kiss him, freezing as the door swung open.

"Rachel, I'm sorry I -" Ivy stopped dead in her tracks when her eyes fell on Kisten, her face instantly draining of all emotion. "What are you doing?" she hissed to him.

Kisten didn't move, but whether that was from defiance or simply his own pain, I didn't know. "Calm down, love," he drawled, giving her a thin smile. "We weren't doing anything. Isn't that right, Rache?"

I glanced up at Ivy, unable to say a word even as he prompted me. For a very brief moment, I though I saw her exterior crack, exposing something between hurt and fury. I didn't really want to know which and didn't get the chance to figure it out. "Get out, Kisten," she demanded quietly. That voice held so much venom screaming wouldn't have even done it justice. "Get out!" she said louder when he still wouldn't move.

Kisten made a face and pulled his arm from beneath my head. "Damn it, Ivy," he mumbled as he replaced the discarded pillow to keep me from falling. "You don't have anything to be jealous of. Go bite yourself." He left the room, black robe billowing behind him to whip at Ivy's legs. She glared at him the whole way before turning back to me. I readied myself for a verbal beating, but it never came.

"You should be resting," she told me softly, suddenly not meeting my eyes.

"Ivy, he was only -"

"Are you thirsty?" She held out a paper cup. "You still can't have any coffee, but I got you some juice."

I took the cup and watched as she plopped ungracefully into a chair against the wall. "Thanks." I took a sip of juice. Orange. Of course.

"They didn't have anything else," she offered in way of an explanation. "I tried to get you apple." She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back. Even with the drugs in her system, she was one imposing woman. Nothing would ever change that, and it was strangely comforting.

"Well, it's the thought that counts." I took another sip and flashed her a smile. One of her own flickered across her lips before disappearing. After a moment of silence, I said cautiously, "Kisten really was just keeping me company. And I asked him to stay." No response. "Please don't be mad."

Ivy glanced at me then. "I'm not mad," she finally admitted. When I took a better look at her, I noticed it was true. She was just overtired, obviously, and rather frustrated. And I couldn't blame her. I was suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to hug her. She was my friend, and she had stayed in my room for days waiting for me. Who knew what kind of torture that had been for her?

"Will you stay with me then, Ivy?" I asked lamely. "I mean I know you've been here the whole time, but I wasn't awake, and I haven't, um, talked to you in a while."

Ivy's eyes got very big and she nodded. She shifted around in her chair, and I thought she was going to sit on the bed where Kisten had left. But then she seemed to think better of it, and settled for crossing her legs instead. I let my breath out slowly. "Jenks was here," said Ivy at last.

My heart skipped a beat, and the pounding in my head grew louder. He'd been here? Then maybe he was finally ready to talk. "Really?"

Ivy's face went closed again, and I knew I'd gotten my hopes up too far. "Yes. He was here. Tried to hide in the plant, though." She gestured. "He didn't want either of us to know."

I sighed. "He's never going to forgive me, is he?" Ivy didn't answer, instead shifting again uncomfortably in the chair. "Where did David go?" I asked, changing the subject.

She ran her tongue over her teeth beneath her lips. "He went home. Finally." Her eyes met mine again. "He's been here just as long as I have."

It was quiet for a moment as I thought of something to say. "Thank you."

Ivy jerked, surprised by my words. "For what?"

"For being here. For being my friend." I gave her another soft smile, the pain amulet and my severe exhaustion finally starting to get the best of me. "I really appreciate it."

I didn't hear what she said, if anything, as sleep crept back to claim my consciousness. All I knew – and all I really cared about – was that Kisten was safe and Ivy was by my side.